The great Chinese traffic jam has played out in the media as a neat reflection of the way we see China. It is a mirror to our almost every myth and cliché about the country.
Above all, it offers the reassuring sense that the Chinese are having the same problems we are—only worse. The traffic jam is seen as the end of civilization, as in such films as Godard’s Weekend (1967) but even in the eyes of Laurel and Hardy as far back as 1928 or Harold Lloyd in Speedy (1924) with its break neck chase through Manhattan.To the Wall Street Journal, the jam is caused by the Chinese economic boom. “China’s Boom Snarls Traffic in 60-mile Jam” was the headline. In the AP take, the jam reflects dubious business practices and product quality we still fear from the Chinese: “unlicensed trucks” chose to travel the road that became jammed up, to avoid watchful authorities on other routes. To the FT, the trucks were carrying coal from furtive mines to ease an energy bottleneck. The Indian newspaper Hindu, reports our pal Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic, compared the jam to the hoariest Chinese cliché of them all: it was like the Great Wall.